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Workforce Enhancement Project Now Headed For The Kitchen

By Megan Shepard | Archives

The Cape Fear region now has its recipe for success and it is time to start cooking.
After a two-year study, the Wilmington Chamber
of Commerce is ready to begin
the implementation stage of its workforce enhancement project – Cape Fear Future.
The Chamber now has 41 recommendations from the consulting firm Catalytix Inc. in the form of a “cookbook,” so named because it doesn’t just suggest what the community can do, but also advises on how, when and by whom.
Cape Fear Future’s Leadership Team, chaired by Vinton Fountain, is currently determining the first wave of initiatives to tackle.
“I think we have done a great job of digging into our region in terms of economic impact,” Fountain said after reviewing the report.
“We have a great advantage over many areas of the country. We don’t have to reinvent or transform the region; we just have to build on what we are already doing well.”
Last year, Catalytix provided Cape Fear Future with the cookbook, a 107-page document that lists 41 initiatives, each one thoroughly outlined with recommendations on which community entities are best poised to take the lead on each individual initiative. The initiatives are divided into six categories:
n Be more magnetic: Attract workers to the region
n Expand what you have: Strengthen and grow Cape Fear middle market businesses
n Grow your own: Build regional entrepreneurial community and create small business buzz
n Stir the melting pot: Build diversity and promote inclusiveness
n Champion regional thinking
n Territory assets and quality
of place

In late October 2008, the Cape Fear Leadership Team was formed with the goal of implementing the initiatives laid out in the report.
The Leadership Team includes area stakeholders from the City of Wilmington, New Hanover County, New Hanover Regional Medical Center, UNCW, GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy, PPD and others.
The rise of the creative class
Catalytix thoroughly researched Southeastern North Carolina: conducting dozens of focus groups, surveying more than 1,200 residents and meeting with business and community leaders.  The result of their research is a guide for how to make the region attractive to knowledge sector workers.
According to the study, Wilmington’s future hinges on moving the region in a direction that ensures continued and sustainable economic prosperity. “Talent is the new magnet to attract business,” said Lou Musante of Catalytix. That talent is also known as the knowledge sector of the workforce.
Three years ago, the Chamber of Commerce created Cape Fear Future, an initiative that grew out of Richard Florida’s book, The Rise of the Creative Class.
 In a 2002 article in the Washington Post, Florida defined the creative class as “a fast-growing, highly educated, and well-paid segment of the workforce on whose efforts corporate profits and economic growth increasingly depend. Members of the creative class do a wide variety of work in a wide variety of industries – from technology to entertainment, journalism to finance, high-end manufacturing to the arts.”
Florida’s ideas have become a national movement, with cities and regions striving to attract knowledge workers to their communities.
Cities like San Francisco, Boston, Austin and Seattle are highly attractive to knowledge workers, who
want to live in inclusive, diverse areas that also have outdoor recreation opportunities.
Cape Fear Future believes that Wilmington’s continual economic growth depends upon attracting knowledge workers, from engineers to biotech leaders to artists. “If you have the smartest people living in your community, you will do pretty well,” said Vinton Fountain, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the Cape Fear Future Leadership Team.
When Cape Fear Future was established in 2006, area companies were seeing shortages in qualified workers, including engineers, nuclear engineers and qualified persons to work at PPD. “It is going to become increasingly more competitive to attract knowledge workers,” Connie Majure-Rhett, President of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, said. “The economic downturn gives us some breathing room, but the baby boomers won’t be around forever.”
“While other people might be worried about putting out fires, we still look toward the future,” Majure-Rhett said.
The Chamber of Commerce contacted Catalytix, Inc. in early 2006.  Catalytix is a strategic planning and research group that consults with communities to help them devise ways of attracting knowledge workers. Catalytix has worked with a number of regions across the country – including Phoenix, Orlando, Albuquerque, and upstate New York – to help them move forward in a creative economy.
A place to start
Out of the six categories in the cookbook, Fountain believes that promoting entrepreneurialism is the most important goal.  “We can create an environment where the entrepreneur prospers, and that is attractive to college graduates from UNCW and other educated people who may relocate to this area.”
Of course, you need a workforce but you also need jobs for those people to fill. If there are no jobs, and people want to stay in Wilmington, they may eventually look elsewhere.
In comparison to other cities of similar size, Majure-Rhett said Wilmington is generally doing pretty well on most things. In August, Outside Magazine named Wilmington one of the 20 best cities in America, citing what Wilmington has to offer: the ports, historic downtown, riverfront, and of course, the beaches.
“We would hope that in 20 years, the community will look back and say thank goodness people worked on this,” she said.
Majure-Rhett emphasizes the long-term nature of the project, that results won’t be felt for many years.

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